When Perfect Game staged its Albuqueque (N.M.) Pre-High School Showcase in late May, 2006, Blake Swihart was a somewhat-less-than-strapping 5-foot-4, 105-pound catcher, infielder and outfielder who had turned 14 years old just a month earlier.
Despite that slight, adolescent frame, a PG scout took notice and punched out a quick report about a youngster who wouldn’t enter the eighth-grade until the next school year.
“Blake has a well-balanced swing (and) a short swing that stayed on the ball,” the report reads. “Good lateral movement; feet and hands worked well.”
Fast-forward five years to the prestigious Perfect Game National Showcase at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., in June, 2010. Swihart had grown to an athletic 6-2, 175-pounds and was already considered one of the nation’s top prospects in the high school class of 2011.
This time, a PG scout had a little more to say:
“Blake Swihart (has a) a lean athletic build (and) some developing strength. Switch-hitter, outstanding bat speed and power right-handed, ball jumps, hard pull/lift contact, effortless. Shorter swing left-handed, handles the barrel, sees the ball very well, solid contact against top-level stuff.”
Swihart is now wrapping up his senior year at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, N.M., and last summer was named an Aflac All-American, played in the Area Code Games and was selected to play on the USA Baseball 18-and-under national team.
He is Perfect Game’s No. 12-ranked top national prospect (No. 1 in New Mexico) in the class of 2011, and was a Rawlings/Perfect Game 2011 Preseason High School All-American. He has signed a national letter-of-intent to play baseball at the University of Texas beginning in the 2011-12 school year.
When Swihart walked out on the field at Manzano High School in Albuquerque back in 2006 as a skinny 14-year-old, such a rapid rise to his age-group’s upper echelon was stuff of fairy tales.
“I always dreamed of it but I didn’t know it would actually be reality,” Swihart said in a recent telephone conversation with Perfect Game. “I just went out and played back then for fun. I dreamed about it but I never thought I’d actually do it.”
Swihart started his high school experience at Rio Rancho High School but transferred to newly opened Cleveland after his sophomore year. The Rio Rancho team he played on as a sophomore in 2009 won a New Mexico 1-5A state championship.
This spring, Cleveland High won 14 of its first 20 games with postseason play set to begin May 6. The switch-hitting Swihart started the season on a tear, batting .629 with a 1.229 slugging percentage without a strikeout through the first 10 games. As a junior, he hit .580 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI.
“I’m feeling really good. I’m not hitting too many home runs but I’m getting on base more than I’m not, so I’m feeling pretty good,” he said.
Swihart has certainly endeared himself to the Rio Rancho community, regardless of which high school he attended.
“Blake is a special person on and off the field,” Cleveland head coach Shane Shallenberger told Kevin Askeland of Maxpreps.com earlier this spring. “He takes his grades very seriously and is a 4.0 student. He also helps with young and up-coming baseball players, and umpires games for them on weekends. He has also volunteered his time to talk to elementary schools about bullying.
“If there is ever help needed, Blake is there.”
The scouting community and college coaches from all of the elite NCAA Division I colleges and universities began to take notice of Swihart’s talents during his sophomore year at Rio Rancho High, and the interest intensified during his junior year at Cleveland.
As the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft approaches in June, the scouts continue to show a strong interest in Swihart, even as he seemingly notices them less.
“At first it was pretty stressful, but I’m just sitting back and relaxing and having fun with all the scouts who are coming out to watch games,” he said. “I’m pretty used to it now. I’ve had at least one or two at every single game (this spring), and some games I’ve had 20 to 27, so I’m getting pretty used to it.”
It was while performing in the PG National Showcase, the Aflac All-American Classic and the Area Code Games that Swihart really noticed the large volume of MLB general managers, assistant GMs, scouting directors, scouts and cross checkers who were eye-balling all the top prospects, himself included.
“At the beginning it was overwhelming having a bunch of radar guns in the stands and having a bunch of high-end people up there watching you play baseball and rating how you play,” Swihart said. “Then I just had fun with it.”
Swihart started switch-hitting the summer before his sophomore year in high school at Rio Rancho. He picked it up pretty quickly, but did need some prompting from one of his coaches.
“I had practiced it a little bit, and one of my catching coaches came out and said, ‘You’re going to hit left-handed all year; I don’t care if you go 0-for-40 you’re going to do it because that’s going to be the next step to get you to the next level,’” Swihart related. “It’s got me to the next level and I like it. It’s a lot of fun.”
His first real national stage on which Swihart demonstrated his switch-hitting and catching skills was at last summer’s PG National Showcase, and he remains appreciative of the opportunity it afforded him.
“That got me seen so I could play at Aflac, and Perfect Game has given me real good exposure,” he said. “I’ve told (my high school teammates) that (Perfect Game events are) something they really need to go do. That gets you out there and gets you seen a lot.”
Swihart is a native Texan and his family didn’t move to New Mexico until he was 12 years old. His decision to accept legendary coach Augie Garrido’s scholarship offer at UT was a no-brainer, at least in his brain.
“I grew up wearing burnt orange – just wearing Texas pants, shorts, shirts, hats, everything,” he said. “It’s a dream come true getting a scholarship offer and getting to go play for them. When I went on my visit it was a lot of fun, and I liked the atmosphere of the whole college and how was it was very school-orientated and everyone just had a good time with each other.”
Swihart is not oblivious to the pending draft, of course. He is considered a certain first round selection and Perfect Game director of scouting David Rawnsley’s mock draft projects the Houston Astros will take him with the No. 11 overall pick and the fourth high-school prospect selected.
Swihart remains intent on concentrating only on the remainder of his high school season before shipping off to Austin in the fall.
“Until the draft, right now it’s just all Texas all the way,” Swihart said. “You never know what’s going to happen so I just have to plan to go to Texas.”
Swihart is uncertain if he’ll remain a catcher as his career progresses, regardless if it’s at the collegiate or professional level. He has experience at just about every other position on the field.
“Right now I have no idea,” he said. “I know a lot of the scouts and college coaches have said they want my bat in the game every day, so they’re just looking at me being in the lineup with my bat and hopefully they’ll find a position for me. But as of right now, it would be catching or third base or outfield, probably.”
By mid-June, Swihart will have a little better handle on what the future holds. He’ll have a better grasp on what sort of payday he could be looking at if he decides to sign professionally and leaves his dream of being a Texas Longhorn on the table.
It will be a life-changing decision made by a very recent high school graduate. Swihart will try to take it all in stride.
“These next couple of months I’m just going to concentrate on doing the best I can in baseball and finishing up school and just have fun with it,” he said. “Either way, it’s a win-win situation, so I’m just going to have fun with it and ride along with it.”